Focus Taiwan’s Ann Chen cites Terry Gou, Chairman of Apple’s main iPhone and iPad subcontractor Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (Foxconn) in a China Times interview urging consumers to hold off buying Samsung’s new Galaxy III handset and wait for the launch of Apple’s iPhone 5, saying that the new iPhone will put the snazzy new Samsung phone to shame. Mr. Gou should be somewhat uniquely positioned to know, since his company is very likely at least beginning to tool up for new iPhone production.
Speaking at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Monday, Mr. Gou confirmed a joint venture deal with Japan’s Sharp Corp. that will help Hon Hai upgrade its competitiveness in the display panel business. Hon Hai has acquired a roughly 10 percent stake in Sharp, making it the Japanese company’s largest shareholder, and also purchased ownership of the Taiwanese flat-panel maker Chimei Innolux Corp. Ms. Chen also reports that Mr. Gou has agreed to take a 46.5 percent stake under his own name in Sharp’s Sakai-based 10th-generation LCD panel plant, which Hon Hai will begin operating on July 1.
The Sakai plant also reportedly has an exclusive agreement with American glassmaker firm Corning Inc. Corning Gorilla Glass is already used in Apple’s iPhone and iPad, but Corning also has a brand new glass product called Willow Glass, an engineered, ultra-slim flexible but very strong glass technology announced by the company at the Society for Information Display’s Display Week trade show in Boston a few weeks back, that could be a facilitator in helping Apple design a completely new iPhone form factor. Just not in time for the sixth-generation iPhone.
Apple has been and continues to be criticized, often harshly, by forum contributors to this blog for having stood pat form factor wise with the iPhone 4S last fall. Of course there is another school of thought that likes the compact dimensions and comfortable hand holdability and easy pocketability of the traditional iPhone design, but it’s impossible to please everyone in these matters. In any case, the 4S has proved to be the hottest-selling iPhone in the device’s history, so it’s hard to argue that they didn’t know what they were doing in a business plan context.
I don’t think we’ll ever see Apple adopt the avant-garde, trend-following, throw-some-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks approach to design embraced by some Android phone makers. However, it would be a mistake for Apple to just roll out an iPhone 4GS come September or October after going on two years of iPhone 5 anticipation that expects something more radical.
I think it’s likely a pretty safe bet that the new 2012 iPhone (I’m increasingly doubtful that it will be called iPhone 5) will have a larger Retina display, and be somewhat larger overall in dimensions other than thickness, but not radically so in either case, with the development paradigm being evolution rather than revolution. The latter will have to wait at least until the seventh-gen. Apple handset, which will most likely arrive in the fall of 2013.
Corning says its Willow Glass will help enable thin, light and cost-efficient applications including even slimmer displays and smart surfaces, noting that the thinness, strength, and flexibility of the glass has the potential for displays to be wrapped around a device or structure. As well, the company claims that Willow Glass can be processed at temperatures up to 500 C, high temperature processing capability being essential for use in producing high-end displays — a quality that can’t be supported with polymer films. With Willow Glass, Corning says the industry will be enabled to implement high-temperature, continuous roll-to-roll processes, similar to the way newsprint is produced, which has been impossible with glass until now, and support thinner backplanes and color filters for both organic light emitting diode (OLED) and liquid crystal displays (LCD) in smartphones, tablets, and notebook computers. This new, ultra-slim flexible glass will also facilitate development of conformable (curved) displays for immersive viewing or mounting on non-flat surfaces.
Corning says its Willow Glass is also formulated to perform well in electronic components such as touch sensors, as well as leveraging glass’s natural hermetic properties as a seal for OLED displays and other moisture and oxygen-sensitive technologies.
“Displays become more pervasive each day and manufacturers strive to make both portable devices and larger displays thinner,” says Dr. Dipak Chowdhury, division vice president and Willow Glass program director. “Corning Willow Glass provides the substrate performance to maintain device quality in a thin and light form factor. Currently manufacturing in a sheet-to-sheet process, we expect Corning Willow Glass to eventually allow customers to switch to high-throughput, efficient roll-to-roll processing, a long-awaited industry milestone.”
Meanwhile, we can expect the 2012 iPhone to have a flat LCD display, possibly incorporating in-cell technology that engineers the screen’s touch sensitivity into the TFT (thin-film transistor) panel manufacturing process, thereby eliminating the need for an additional glass layer to add touch functionality, with the tandem benefits of reducing overall manufacturing costs and allowing for a thinner and lighter panel. I’m expecting the new iPhone’s display to be smaller than the http://www.samsung.com/global/galaxys3/superamoled.html Galaxy S III’s 4.8″ active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) panel (which also uses Corning Gorilla Glass), but the Apple handset’s enclosure to be made of something more elegant and elemental than the Samsung phone’s 0.34 inch-thick glossy plastic housing. It would be nice if Apple included something similar to the Galaxy S III’s removable 2100 milliampere-hour (mAh) battery module, but that would be dreaming. I’m doubtful that the new iPhone will “shame” the Samsung Galaxy S III exactly, but it will continue Apple’s high standard of design, engineering, materials, and build quality, as well as the iOS’s advantages over Android. Nothing to be sneezed at, and I think Terry Gou’s advice to hold off making a purchase if at all possible until the Apple device is unveiled is wise council.